Notes and Editorial Reviews
SATTERWHITE Violin Sonata1. Memento Mori No 2: Hope Chest Full of Sand2. Memento Mori No. 3: Ribbons on the Memory Wall3. Spiky Epiphanies4 • 1Benjamin Sung (vn); 1Jihye Change (pn); 2Louisville Str Qrt; 3J. Patrick Rafferty (vn); 3Dallas Tidwell (cl); 3Krista Wallace-Boaz (pn); 4Arsenal Trio • CENTAUR CRC 3021 (66:29)
"Texan Marc Satterwhite (b. 1954) writes avowedly “serious” music, and is not reticent about the lasting influence of his mother’s suicide on much of his work. It would be wrong to imagine that his music is therefore slow and grave; it is not, any more than the process of grieving is invariably quiet or formal. In these chamber pieces, Satterwhite posits a series of decisive gestures, occasionally
ritualistic, often harsh, usually succeeding each other in a spontaneous, random way. An overwhelming feature of his work is a fascination with instrumental technique, a kind of technical playfulness. Mostly these two facets of his music support each other; in a few works, at least to my ears, they are at odds.
Spiky Epiphanies, was recorded in 2008 and released last year. This disc includes the second and third in the Memento Mori series, for string quartet and clarinet trio respectively.
Memento Mori No. 2 (Hope Chest Full of Sand) continues the pattern of extreme contrasts, from its softly atmospheric opening to an episode of almost uncontrollable frenzy around the 13-minute mark. (The piece runs for 17:45.) This is a case where the sudden juxtaposition of dynamic extremes and avant-garde-derived techniques serve a dramatic and emotive purpose: Satterwhite always attempts to re-create a visceral experience and here he certainly succeeds. The Louisville Quartet is superb at realizing every expressive aspect of the work. (Its members are J. Patrick Rafferty and Marcus Ratzenboeck, violins; Chien-Ju Liao, viola; and Paul York, cello.) Similar comments could be made for Memento Mori No. 3: Ribbons on the Memory Wall, written for those stalwart new-music commissioners the Verdehr Trio, and much played. In this piece, the smooth tone of the clarinet conjures up a more traditional sound of lamentation. This work is also the most tightly structured of the three.
Spiky Epiphanies is a phrase that could be accurately applied to all the music on these discs; it sums up Satterwhite’s ethos. This 11-minute piano trio takes us down by-now familiar paths, although a passage that puts a violin line over regular, wide-spread piano chords brings a touch of Messiaen I had not noticed previously. Again the composer’s skill and ingenuity are evident, but the paucity of memorable thematic material is a drawback.
The most recent work in this program is another piece of absolute music, the Violin Sonata of 2003. It is in four movements, the first and third typically titled Elegy, with a scherzo second and a toccata to close. The elegies display the composer’s habitual juxtaposition of ideas without going to extremes. The opening of the second elegy is quite haunting; in fact, this movement is one of the composer’s most successful elegiac pieces. The scherzo bustles along to its deftly deconstructed conclusion with aplomb.
To sum up: Satterwhite writes with a strong, personal voice; his music is always full of interest from one moment to the next, but his fragmentary structures do not always add up to a satisfying whole. When they do, as in the Violin Sonata, Memento Mori No. 3, and Witnesses of Time, the result is contemporary music of real significance. If your interest is piqued, I would recommend the newer of these two CDs; the musicians are formidable without exception, and the recording quality is more consistent than that of the earlier disc."
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Violin and Piano by Marc Satterwhite
Benjamin Sung (Violin),
Jihye Chang (Piano)
Period: 21st Century
Spiky Epiphanies by Marc Satterwhite
Period: 21st Century
Be the first to review this title